Why real change is best served up on a plate

At the back end of last year the former director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, undertook a coast to coast tour of the United Sates meeting with leading thinkers and activists from the American sustainable food movement.

One of the many influential and inspiring people he met along the way — Alice Waters, Eric Schlosser among them — was the writer and activist Michael Pollan. During their meeting, Pollan made the point that, despite all its achievements and countless individual success stories, organic and local food together still represents only about 2% of the total food market. In short, it has yet to break through — in the truly game-changing sense at least.

So, how can organic finally break through and deliver the changes the word urgently needs? That’s the question I’ll be putting to Patrick Holden in a special live interview at Natural & Organic Products Europe this coming Monday.

Expect a frank and candid assessment of the challenges the sustainability movement now faces, and of lessons learned from 15 years at the helm of Britain’s leading organic organisation. Hear too about Holden’s ambitions for the Sustainable Food Trust, the new body he has formed with the aim of creating a global network of organisations and individuals committed to a sustainable future for food and farming.

Holden firmly believes that a well-organised food movement can deliver real change and he points to the example of the United States where, as Time magazine recently put it, foodies are now “eclipsing” the Green movement. Whereas, the Green movement has struggled to capture the public  imagination, perhaps because of the seemingly abstract nature of its chief concerns, the  food movement addresses issues central to our day to day lives and also, crucially, allows itself to be about pleasure too: the pleasure taken from enjoying of fresh, locally grown organic food, simply prepared, imaginatively seasoned — best served with good conversation and the accompany of friends and family. Hook it up  to that other great preoccupation of modern life — health — and you have an incredibly powerful tool for change.

Of course these two things — the food and Green movements — aren’t actually competing with each other. And as Holden sees it, the food movement could potentially offer the best opportunity we have to achieve the environmental goals we will need to meet to avert global catastrophe.

But the food movement is not a single entity. Instead, it’s multiplicity of what Time calls “organised, smaller mobilisations” — potentially both an asset and a liability. Holden views this however from a ‘glass half full’ perspective and sees an opportunity to forge a global alliance of like-minded people and organisations. He also believes that dramatically changing external factors demand a different and more inclusive response from the natural and organic sector. Starting now.

• Breaking through: In Conversation with Patrick Holden takes place in the Keynote Theatre, Olympia, London on Monday April 4 from 14.00 to 15.00. Admission to the interview and discussion is free.